Stigmatization of ADHD: Conspiracy?

Reader’s Question

I have a non-medicated supposed ADD child (without hyperactivity). He is a wonderful gifted boy who is completely normal but does not fit into the public school box. Why do current psychologists continue to stigmatize these children? It is impossible not to have anxiety when being watched under a microscope and constantly being told they are “different”. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. These children are afraid to learn, afraid they will get things wrong. True, they are slower on picking up on social cues than average, but who says everyone has to be average? Why is “not being average” considered a disease? I have read that there is not one definite medical test or conclusive research that can identify a chemical imbalance in the brain. And of the brain scans supposedly “showing” ADHD brains have smaller areas than normal brains, the ADHD brains they used were children who were taking psychotropic drugs for long periods. They cannot rule out, in fact it is likely, that the drugs themselves caused the smallness abnormality. This, they conclude, is evidence that ADHD is a brain dysfunction.

All of the studies have been funded in part by the drug companies themselves. They have their hands in the NIMH, the FDA and all sorts of government run programs. The biggest one is the American Psychiatric Association. These psychiatrists are nothing more than drug pushers, putting a medical label on a condition that is completely subjective, most of the time they take the school’s word for it. The schools get enormous amounts of money for every child they label. It does not matter that these drugs actually harm kids.

The school is so frustrated with me because I will not give in to their demands. Because of this, they have done behavior modification, further stigmatizing him with his peers. I wish I could just get them to leave him alone and let him develop on his own.

Many parents are finding homeschooling is the best option for their ADHD child. One on one instruction in a familiar environment with minimal distractions has been shown to help tremendously with these children. But the public school system somehow incredulously believes that they know how to teach my child better than I do. Which I find interesting, since they seem so exasperated at every meeting. I have wanted to homeschool, but am terrified by the horror stories I hear about school authorities showing up on parents doorsteps, filing charges of emotional and educational neglect because they refuse medication and refuse the public school’s stigmatization of their kids causing depression and social anxiety.

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I am a liberal democrat, and I believe in liberal causes, but when the government tries to take over the raising of my own child, that is where my support ends.

While I believe something in the form of ADHD exists, it is a very small percentage of the population. How can we get the psychology profession to reject this huge net that is cast over our schoolchildren? And how can we stop the criminal act of psychiatrists’ conflict of interest when it comes to these drug companies?

Psychologist’s Reply

While your question contains many misinterpretations and misunderstandings about ADHD, psychiatrists, medication studies, and how the school profits from labeling — your bottom line is well taken. I would agree that ADHD is often overdiagnosed in the community school system. I would also suggest that we often try to medicate a child’s behavior, rather than a well-diagnosed disease or disorder. Without question, the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD should be a multidisciplinary effort involving parents, educators, physicians, and mental health consultants. It should never be a casual or off-the-cuff diagnosis or treatment.

Just to clarify a few points in your question however:

  1. The concept of “chemical imbalance” is considered the standard of care in psychiatry and medicine. Thousands of studies support this treatment philosophy.
  2. True ADHD is associated with neurological and neurobiological factors — again with thousands of studies at this point.
  3. To inform us that “all” studies on ADHD are supported by drug companies is totally incorrect. Thousands of dissertations and other university studies on ADHD receive no drug-company funding. My doctoral dissertation involved ADHD and the drug companies didn’t even buy me a sandwich.
  4. ADHD is not a “subjective” label or diagnosis as you suggest. It’s actually very objective with several testing instruments available.
  5. To say that Psychiatrists are drug pushers is simply a prejudiced opinion on your part.
  6. Schools receive no additional funding for having ADHD children in the classroom.
  7. The school systems do not terrorize homeschooling parents for reasons you mentioned. Rather, they do extend their obligation to provide a proper education to each child and are legally obligated to evaluate homeschooling enviroments. While many parents feel they know what’s best for their children, that doesn’t make them teachers or somehow give them the gift of knowledge in every subject area taught in the community school system. Homeschooling authorizations and allowances are withdrawn when the homeschooling situation is substandard.

I think you will find that your biases and misconceptions about ADHD will create more problems with the school than your child’s diagnosis. About 3 to 5 percent of elementary school children are felt to have ADHD. Treatment of ADHD, when properly diagnosed, is straightforward. This treatment will be impossible as long as you maintain your belief that ADHD is directly related to a vast conspiracy involving drug companies, psychiatrists, pediatricians, school administrators, universities, the APA, the FDA, and probably graduate students. With a conspiracy bias, your child will continue to have difficulties in school while you debate and argue with administrators…while your child slips further behind in his studies. This is about as honest as I can make it.

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